Pinellas to hire "turnaround" leader to support lowest-performing schools
UPDATED AT 6 p.m.
With five of the lowest-performing schools in Florida, Pinellas County school superintendent Mike Grego has replaced principals, stepped up teacher training and announced long-term plans to transform three of the neighborhood schools into magnet programs.
Now he's hiring a former principal and "turnaround" leader to oversee improvement efforts. Antonio Burt, of the Achievement School District in Tennessee, will provide "day-to-day guidance" to principals, help hire teachers at the schools, make sure training is relevant, monitor use of behavior management programs, and keep track of student progress.
Burt will start in late January as director of school leadership, pending School Board approval Tuesday. His salary will be $98,000.
The school district has faced intense scrutiny in the wake of a yearlong Tampa Bay Times investigation, Failure Factories, that showed how the School Board abandoned integration efforts in 2007 and then failed to follow through with promised resources for five elementary schools that became predominantly black and poor. The schools - Campbell Park, Fairmount Park, Lakewood, Maximo and Melrose - are failing at rates worse than almost any other schools in Florida.
Grego, who was hired in 2012, has increased money and help in the schools in the last two years, including adding classroom aides, mental health counselors and training for teachers and administrators. He told the School Board in September that it will likely take years to improve the schools.
Grego eliminated a similar job, the turnaround officer, about eight months into his tenure. At the time, he said that improving low-performing schools was “everyone’s responsibility.”
On Monday, Grego said the new position doesn't represent a change in philosophy. He said Burt's role will be more of a coach, working in the schools in St. Petersburg. The administrative duties of the turnaround officer were shifted to another administrator. That won't change.
Burt has worked in education for about a dozen years and received widespread recognition when, as a principal, he helped make dramatic improvements at one of the lowest performing elementary schools in Tennessee. Most recently, he has been the chief of special academic projects for the Achievement School District.
On Tuesday, Grego also is asking for approval of two other administrative moves. He's hiring Shana Rafalski as the executive director of elementary education. She held a similar position in Orange County Schools. She also has worked in Hillsborough, Seminole and Osceola counties. She will replace Sandra Downes, who retires in February. Rafalski will start in early January.
Grego also is moving Felita Grant, principal of Bay Point Elementary, to director of Title 1. That position is open because Grego moved former director Mary Conage. Grant has worked in the school system since 2000. Grant's new appointment is effective Wednesday.
Those moves also are pending School Board approval. The School Board typically must sign off on personnel moves by the superintendent unless a candidate is unqualified.